Monday, September 30, 2013

Are You Using Echolocation Without Knowing It?

Many people who are blind or visually impaired use echolocation without even knowing it. You may be better at if than you think, especially if your have been without vision for many years.

Often times I talk about echolocation as requiring the use of a mouth click or tongue click, however, the only thing that echolocation requires is some sort of sound. There are a myriad of sounds around us all the time, both acute sound events (like a click, pop, footstep, words, etc.) and ambient sounds, like wind or appliances. All of these sounds undergo many reflections bouncing off of all of the objects around us before making it to our ears. If you have been without vision for some time, you are no stranger to the subtleties of sounds. Many people claim to glean information about their surroundings by tapping their cane on the ground. This tapping sound is something one becomes very familiar with and can be a very effective sound for use with echolocation. Whether you can learn a little bit about your environment, (like what size room you are in) or a lot about your environment, (like what type of furniture is around you, or where a doorway is located) you are using some amount of echolocation.

If this is a strategy you use for mobility, you undoubtedly understand the benefits of this mode of perception. Now is the time to explore the fundamentals of echolocation even further to see how much you can improve this perception. The reason echolocation is taught using mouth clicks is simply because the sound emitted from your mouth is very close to your ears, which means that the sound is basically travelling in a straight line out from your head and directly back to your head. This helps to control the signal better and eliminate various sound reflections that may occur when the sound is emitted from other places, like your snapping fingers or the tip of your cane.

It's important to mention here that there are actually benefits to using a signal that originates a the tip of your cane or your hand, to the effect that it can enable you to see objects in your periphery if done properly. For more information on how you can implement the principles of echolocation in addition to the use of your cane, please take a look at the website ( and read about the book, Beginner's Guide to Echolocation.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Research Helps Understand the Ability to Pinpoint Object Location Using Echolocation

This is a brief article, and more importantly a video documenting some of Dr. Daniel Rowan's research in the field of echolocation.  Rowan is a lecturer in the audiology department at the University of Southampton and has been working to try to create experiments designed to quantify the subtleties and understand the usage and effectiveness of echolocation for both blind and sighted individuals.

Here is a link to the video:

In the video link below they use an "anechoic chamber" to isolate sounds for experimental purposes.  A flat object is moved from side to side to test the ability of a subject to determine it's location.  This is a somewhat fundamental test, and I would say that since it is a large flat object that the test should be fairly easy for anyone who is familiar with the use of echolocation.

I've been in communication with Dr Rowan about his research and he is a very enthusiastic person with plans to continue his research with further studies to help better understand and quantify this skill.  Perhaps in the future he will publish some studies on the more subtle aspects of echolocation, such as the effectiveness of echolocation with varying levels of background noise, or the precision of edge-finding using different frequency signals, or the precision of subjects' ability to determine object construct.

Stay tuned for more exciting things in the field of echolocation! :)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Echolocation Exercises for Blind Children

I have long stressed the importance of learning awareness techniques at a young age, and anyone else teaching echolocation as blind mobility will tell you that it is the best time to learn.  Children have the amazing capacity to lock on to new concepts like echolocation simply because they are still open to all possibilities.  If they are simply encouraged to be more aware of their senses it will lead to better awareness and improved independence later on.  This goes for blind children as well as sighted.  I think that sighted children who become aware of the concept of echolocation could, indeed benefit a lot from it, if only to broaden their horizons and give them a better understanding of all the intricacies of the world around them.

Below are a myriad of games that I've cooked up to help children improve their aural awareness, and become accustomed to listening intently and even identifying certain objects using active echolocation.  These games will be very effective even on children as young as 3 years old.  Making the games fun and engaging may be the tricky part; I've done what I can to make them entertaining, but a lot of that will fall on the iron-clad shoulders of the creative parent.  Good luck!  I would love to know how you and your child make out with these exercises.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions along the way.

  • Dodge the UFOs!
    • Have your child make a "sssshhh" sound while you move a book, or other flat object toward their face.  Try to keep the flat side of the object directly facing them at all times, and tell them to "duck the flying objects" as they approach them.  
    • Then move the object toward the right side of their head and then the left side of their head instructing them to move either left or right to get our of the way.
    • Eventually you may be able to use the palm of your hand as they get more sensitive.
  • "Which way does the wind blow?"
    • Use a book or ball and move it from left to right in front of their face.  Tell them to make a "wind" sound, which should be similar to the "ssshh" sound, and then have them point either left or right depending on which way it's going.  
    • This can also be a good exercise for teaching them the difference between left and right if they are at that age, just have them say the word.
  • What am I hiding behind?
    • This assumes your child is familiar with the environment, such as your living room or their bedroom.
    • With them staying in one place, (like on the couch or in bed) move yourself around the room and hide in different places and ask them "Where am I hiding now?"  Make sure your voice is coming from behind a certain object and you are not projecting directly toward them.
    • Hearing your voice coming from behind certain objects will help them start to get accustomed to how sound moves around a room and reverberates not only off the walls but off of, and through different pieces of furniture.
  • Which room are we in?
    • Carrying your child around your house and not allowing them to touch or otherwise orient themselves, ask them which room you are in. 
    • They may naturally want to yell or make a noise to find out.  And they may be able to use your voice to determine the answer as well.
    • Try to make a game out of it, by zooming around in circles and disorienting them as much as possible so that they have to rely on the sound cues only.
  • Find the ball in the cacti. 
    • This exercise will be for a more advanced child who is comfortable sensing objects and furniture and who has presumably developed a consistent echolocation signal or click.  It can also be done with a clap if desired.
    • Set up an obstacle course or simply move the furniture around a bit to disorient them.  And place a beach ball somewhere in the room.
    • Challenge them to find the ball without touching anything else.
  • DRUM SOLO! How many different clicks and sounds can you make?
    • This is simply a way to get them to exercise their palatal clicks and vocal dexterity.
    • They may find some very interesting sounds that are good to use with echolocation.
  • Guess which toy I'm holding
    • Choose two of their favorite toys, one hard, preferably with a flat surface, or an inflatable ball, and one soft, like a stuffed animal.
    • Hold it up in front of them and ask them to make a click if they can, or simply the "ssshh" sound, and tell you which one it is.
  • How many steps to the wall?
    • This can be done in many different environments, not just the home and is intended for children who have developed a consistent click and are comfortable with the basics.  
    • Position them in front of a flat wall at some distance between 3 and 10 feet away and have them click and estimate how many steps it will take them to be able to reach the wall.
    • Have them verify their estimate by approaching the wall.
  • Sneaky Sammy
    • Use a stuffed animal and quietly hold it just to the right or left of child's head. Have them click or say something with a lot of "S" sounds like "Sneaky Sammy's somewhere..." 
    • Then have them grab for the stuffed animal on either side.
  • Catch the fly
    • Softly rub your forefingers together and move them around in front of your child. They must reach out and grab your hand.
    • This exercise is not actually echolocation, but instead will give help them with identifying the source direction of subtle sounds which will help with echolocation in the future.
To broaden your understanding of echolocation and help your children do the same, please take a look at the Beginner's Guide to Echolocation.  There are lots of intricacies to the skill which I have tried very hard to distill into concepts that can be easily understood by everyone.  Again, please contact me with any questions or to let me know how your child is doing with these exercises.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Circumnavigating an Object

If you are comfortable discerning a relatively large object in front of you, such as a car, you should attempt circumnavigation.  This will help you orient, and re-orient yourself to the object as you circle around it.  Try to locate yourself a relatively safe distance from it.  Something on the order of 4 - 10 feet away.  Now simply walk around it, keeping it in your "echolocation scope" at all times.

Try to keep your distance the same.  If you start getting to close it should be clearly louder, but if you start moving further away from it, it can be very hard to tell until you have lost sight of it altogether.

Also, see if you can navigate 360 degrees around it and end up right back where you started.  Keep in mind that if there are flat objects on the object you can use those to identify your orientation with respect to the object, however, if there are flat surfaces, that also means that they will be at an angle to you at some point so the response from the object will seem to fade when you are in particular orientations.  Learn to judge the distance to the object with that in mind.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

COMING SOON: Free Echolocation Audio Course!

It is my ultimate goal to provide echolocation training tools to those in need, those with a yearning for more independence, who might not have the resources or relationships to get the help they need to live the life they want to.  I believe echolocation can tremendously help millions of blind people around the world to realize their dreams and become more confident and lead a completely fulfilling life.

That is why I am putting together a 7-day echolocation audio course to teach the basics of echolocation and help you on your way to a successful practice.  I am building the audio course now and will be launching it soon for everyone to download.  The course will be entirely free and while it is only an introductory course, it will cover a LOT of material to get you headed in the right direction, literally!

So keep your eye out for this exciting new course!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Edge Finding, Edge Tracing and Shape Identification

Recently I had someone ask me about seeing shapes with echolocation and that he was having trouble doing so.  He could see distance - tell if something is in front of him or not - but was not able to tell what the object was.

This is a great question and something I realized I have somewhat glanced over on this blog.  It's important to note that you will most likely NOT see shapes when just getting started.  If you are sighted, like this person, or blind and only use echolocation as a guideline for determining your generic environment, you have got a ways to go before you will actually be able to distinguish shapes.

Echolocation should be trained one little step at a time.  If you can sense distance or at least have a feeling whether or not something is in front of you, the next step is "edge finding".  Locate the object until it drops off.  There's the edge!  Keep training that however, because you'll notice that the edges come into focus better and better over time.  Move the position of your head back and forth over the object edge and really try to identify where the exact edge is.  It's good to do edge finding on hard, flat objects with crisp lines and nothing in the background such that the signal is completely different on either side of the edge.  A doorjamb is a good tool for edge finding.

The next step should be "edge tracing".  Once you can easily identify an edge, you should work on following that edge to circumscribe an object.  This can be practiced on a parked car, dresser, furniture, trash cans, etc.  Continue to practice edge tracing until you are comfortable with it.  Each time you do this exercise your brain is building new neural connections and making it easier for you to identify edges and certain shapes.

Eventually, with this progressive practice, you may be able to see entire shapes at a glance, but I think that even very adept, blind from birth, echolocators still sometimes struggle with seeing full shapes.  Instead they might see edges, one at a time, and have to piece them together over the course of a few clicks.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Echolocation to Assist the Blind in Developing Nations

While children’s access to nutrition and medicine are a large concern in the west like North American and Europe as well as well-to-do nations like Japan and Singapore, things are a bit different in less privileged countries like those found in South America, Africa and undeveloped nations in Asia. In these places nutrition and medicine are something that people can only hope for and can never get in abundant amounts like they do in developed nations. It is because of this fact that there are a large number of children in third-world countries that have many birth defects because of deficit nutrition which of course includes blindness.

And to make matters worse, parents in third-world countries respond poorly to the situation and often have the mentality that blind children are “hopeless” and can never become upstanding citizens and lead normal lives because of their condition. This goes on to lead parents to neglect their blind children in favor of their more “normal” children and while there are indeed individuals and organizations who make it possible to give these underprivileged children the chance at normal lives, the common masses often have little access to these facilities and often don’t even know about them unless approached directly by health and social workers.

Perhaps one of the more important issues to consider when helping underprivileged blind children is the government’s stance on the matter. More often than not, without the government’s blessing or intervention, little is actually done for the less fortunate populace in most third-world countries.

How can Echolocation Help?

Unlike most mobility practices, like guide dog usage and modern accessibility technologies, echolocation does not require any physical resources.  The implications here are of course that anyone can do it if they have the proper training.  Hiring trainers can also be very difficult as funding is often scarce, and travel expenses for a short training session can be quite high.

However, getting over that initial misunderstanding and apprehension of the skill of echolocation is often the biggest step to learning echolocation.  The Beginner's Guide to Echolocation is the first, and currently the only book of its kind to specifically provide enlightening echolocation lessons to the blind community making it accessible for even the most remote of practitioners.

I strongly believe that this skill can change the world we live in.  I am also offering this book at a much lower price for qualifying organizations.  Please contact me for further details on how you can make this book, this knowledge, this skill, and this new independence for the blind available in your remote community.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Echolocation and the Evolution of Mankind

Since the dawn of time man kind has been struggling to survive on a planet covered in species stronger and faster than ourselves.  Very few of our traits stack up again our predators save for our brains and the way we use them.  Firstly the ability to think, reason and strategize, and additionally, to be forward thinking enough to know which skills and capabilities we should nurture to allow ourselves to thrive.  I strongly believe that echolocation is one of these skills - something that addresses an acute need and will give us the ability to overcome obstacles and increase our independence and strength as individuals and as a species.

Recently there has been much in the news about echolocation.  Daniel Kish and his team at World Access for the Blind have been making marvelous strides to improve awareness of the skill and train hundreds, maybe thousands of visually impaired persons on the benefits and fundamentals of echolocation.  Research has been undertaken recently which proves the viability of the practice of human echolocation.
Every generation learns from the previous generation aiming to improve itself beyond what the previous generation was capable of.  Nurturing the skill of echolocation now will provide the next visually impaired generation with a tool that integrates seamlessly into existing mobility practice and a level of perception that far exceeds anything that the previous generation thought possible.

In a world where so many good things are on the decline, the notion that each and every one of us has the ability to advance humanity and contribute to the betterment of mankind is empowering.  It gives me hope that our species will make good choices in the future and never lose sight of the fundamental benefits of consistent self improvement.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Using Echolocation in a Foreign Environment

A recent survey published by Durham University in the UK indicated that visually impaired persons are far less likely to use echolocation in a foreign environment due to the difficulty it presents. Let's take a look at how someone might approach using echolocation for the first time in a foreign environment.

Start With a Wide Perspective

At this point you should be comfortable with the beginner and many of the intermediate exercises. To get a broad sense of where you are you can tap your cane, stomp your foot, clap your hands, click your tongue, or make a variety of other noises. This will give you a sense of whether you're outdoors or indoors. If you're indoors it will also give you an approximate size of the room and tell you if the room is carpeted, furnished or empty. If you're outdoors it will tell you if you're in a field or parking lot or a grove of trees.

Find a Reference Object

Next, still using this simple sounds listed above, try to get a sense of large nearby objects such as walls, cars and trees. We can explore that object more later and learn about what exactly it is, but for now we will simply keep track of it and use it as a reference point.

Scan for Other Objects and General Envirnoment Shape

Now, using your favorite tongue click, slowly scan the rest of the space around you. Try to determine a distance to the nearest object in all directions. Pay close attention to flat objects as they may represent pieces of larger contoured or angled objects that are less visible. If you see four flat objects at right angles from one another, you are very likely in a square or rectangular room and can orient yourself using these four directions.

Find Hallways and Open Doors

Also be aware of echoic directions that seem to resonate far in the distance and taper off quickly on either side. These generally represent hallways. Open doorways can usually be identified as a "hollow spot", or a "hole" that provides very little response. At this point you should be able to easily identify groves of trees and other foliage, which will tell you if you are at the edge of a field yard or path. Listen for any glass surfaces which could help identify windows and glass doors from the outside of a building. You can also identify doors and store fronts by looking up slightly for awnings.

In essence, no matter where you are, the process will be similar. I'm sure you will find your own specific ways of implementing the scanning process, but essentially, you will want to start wide and narrow your focus toward objects of interest and eventually find walls to track along. Eventually, with practice your need to thoroughly scan the whole room will decrease and your "peripheral" echolocation "vision" will improve allowing you to see objects in many directions all at once.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Echolocation Movement Gets Good Press on NBC News

Witnessing the evolution of a skill set that has the power to change people's lives so profoundly is a great feeling.  It's not often that such a wonderful new technology or revelation comes around that is able to do so much good for such a large body of people. The echolocation movement is just beginning now and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Today this article and video was published on NBC's

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

This first stage of the echolocation movement will provide the opportunity for many people who have never heard of echolocation to become aware of it. This is a critical step in the success of echolocation, because in order for blind people to adopt the practice of it, it is important that they feel comfortable taking it on and know that they will not be looked upon strangely during their training and practice.

It will still take a long time for echolocation, or biosonar to become a household word, but this is a huge step in helping that transition.  Thank you to all the good folks at NBC for airing this and helping to progress this incredible field.

Monday, May 20, 2013

New Echolocation Research Published at the University of Southampton

From a new study published by the University of Southampton:
The results showed that both sighted and blind people with good hearing, even if completely inexperienced with echolocation, showed the potential to use echoes to tell where objects are.
It is great to see this type of research being done to help aid the visually impaired community. When this type of thing has been studied in the past it is often to the benefit of science in general or discreet facets of the biology industry. Here we have a team of researchers dedicated to providing this information to help the blind mobility community and add more scientific framework to a mobility tool in need of this type of verification.
Researchers from the University of Southampton's Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) and University of Cyprus conducted a series of experiments with sighted and blind human listeners, using a 'virtual auditory space' technique, to investigate the effects of the distance and orientation of a reflective object on ability to identify the right-versus-left position of the object. They used sounds with different bandwidths and durations (from 10-400 milliseconds) as well as various audio manipulations to investigate which aspects of the sounds were important. The virtual auditory space, which was created in ISVR's anechoic chamber, allowed researchers to remove positional clues unrelated to echoes, such as footsteps and the placement of an object, and to manipulate the sounds in ways that wouldn't be possible otherwise (e.g. get rid of the emission and present the echo only).
Read the rest of the article here:

Access the full report here:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

VIDEO: What is Echolocation?

I recently put this video together to spread the word of echolocation to those who need more information.  It provides a clear cut, simple explanation of exactly what it is and how it's used.

If you are still unsure of what echolocation is, I'm sure this video will clear things up.  If you're still skeptical of echolocation, that's alright!  That just means you have the ability to think critically which will inevitably help you learn.

As always if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below or contact me directly.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Does the same noise sound the same to two different people?

Well that is indeed quite a question. After all, different people tend to react differently to a given stimulus. One person may find a specific stimulus annoying or even outright disturbing can be both soothing and relaxing to another as it depends largely on the culture and upbringing of said persons. For instance, in many cultures, black has been widely associated with ideas like death and evil while in Japan and other North Asian cultures, they use white to symbolize death instead. That is why one kind of sound may symbolize two radically different ideas for two people depending on their culture. A bell tolling may mean a wedding for one person, but might actually be an alarm to another.

Also, take note that a person’s ear structure also figures largely with how one actually hears and perceives sound. While there are animals in the animal kingdom that only possess exposed eardrums to receive and process noise, humans have the distinct ear shape with the rest of the more important faculties placed within the head proper. This is so that noise hits the structures and is channeled into the eardrum instead of just letting random noise from all directions that can be found in more primitive animals. Also of note is the fact that the position of ears can also differ from person to person, leading one to perceive noise differently from others. The sensitivity of ears is also another significant factor and some are more likely to perceive subtle vibrations than others.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What are Sound Reflectors?

Have you ever attended an orchestra or an indoor concert? Did you notice anything particularly in your general surroundings? Well, if you didn’t, then perhaps you’ll take note of the way the sound seems to be more solid and seems to reverberate in your bones while in the concert hall as opposed to what you’ll hear in an open-space concert. If you’re wondering what makes it all possible, then the explanation is rather simple. They make use of what are called Sound Reflectors which are relatively simple structures that are placed into the walls to make the musical piece reflect back towards the audience, giving it a fuller and louder effect.

So what are sound reflectors, really? Well, they are simply panels of wood that have been carved into a convex shape that will allow them to reflect sound directly into the audience in order to hear whatever is on stage with even greater clarity. Composed mainly of plywood with some gel to make them even more reflective of sound, this is what makes indoor concerts, lectures and seminars successful thanks to the way that sound is carried and distributed. This is what makes sound reflectors also a must in so many establishments like lecture halls, auditoriums and places of worship.

So next time you attend a huge public gathering such as a seminar or concert and are just wondering how they make sound travel and reverberate throughout the space without making use of any additional speakers, take note and look up as they are probably making use of sound reflectors.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sound Mirrors Used During Wartime

World War II gave us many advances in technology, but one of the lesser known things that is directly related to echolocation is the “Sound Mirror” At first they seem baffling and quite strange to uninitiated onlookers, but when you understand what they were used for and how they work it's really quite simple yet quite remarkable.

Rising a good twenty feet off the ground and composed of concrete somewhere near the Greatstone Lakes, these structures that highly resemble some kind of ancient wonder built by a prehistoric kingdom are collectively known as Acoustic Mirrors, Concrete Dishes, Listening Ears and, of course, Sound Mirrors. And no, contrary to whatever impressions come to mind they were most assuredly not objects of worship, they were actually built by the British government in conjunction with the military so as to provide an early warning system against enemy air-strikes. Riddled with microphones and other listening equipment, the sound mirrors provided people with a 15 minute warning ahead of time in the event of an enemy attack. Simple but very effective, this allowed Britain and its citizens time enough to evacuate while anti-aircraft weapons are prepared for the eventual arrival of the enemy.

The interesting part here is to note that these are objects designed for sound to bounce off of them.  There aren't too many objects like that.  They acted to focus a small amount of sound energy (over the area of the face of the 30' dish) into a focal point, just like a radio telescope of satellite TV dish.  Somewhere in the center of the dish is where all of the sound would be focused.  If you were to put your head in that central focal point, which is where the microphones would have been placed, you would be able to hear all of the sounds coming into the dish.

An interesting concept when it comes to picturing how echolocation works!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sensory overlap in humans

A recent email from a reader got me thinking about sensory overlap.  We have these five wonderful senses that we generally think are each doing their own thing to provide us with information.  But a lot of them can be considered to "overlap" in their functionality.  Of course the first case is echolocation.  We can perceive the things around us with our eyes, but we can also perceive things around us with our ears, as we are all learning.  Here are a few things that we perceive with more than one sense.  Feel free to list others you can think of in the comments.

Perceive objects around us:
Touch (only arms length away)

Perceive texture:
Hearing (not as detailed)
Sight (sometimes deceiving due to color)

Perceive sounds:
Touch (vibrations and impulses only)

Perceive flavor:

This is just a short list, I'm sure there are more.  What do you think?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Resonant Frequency of a Room

The resonant frequency of a room is a concept often discussed in acoustic design, such as the layout of an auditorium or music studio.  It could also be a topic of discussion when installing a home stereo system.

Essentially, most rooms are rectangular or square, meaning that they have parallel walls across from each other.  These parallel walls make it possible for sound waves to get "trapped" or resonate back and forth between one wall and the other.  Like the infinite image you might see if you look into a mirror and also have a mirror behind you.  And it starts getting really interesting when you realize that there are  particular frequency sound waves that "match" the size of the room.

For example, if a room measures 11.3 feet wide in one direction, that means that a 50Hz tone will bounce perfectly back and forth through the room.  Since the pressure wave continually peaks at the same point in the room it will amplify that frequency in that location.

No, you probably won't actively use this concept during echolocation, but, yet again, an interesting little side note about how sound works and some of the effects you might encounter on a daily basis while practicing active echolocation.

Free 10-Minute Audio Lesson: Learn the Echolocation Click

Learn echolocation clicks with a free audio lesson
Learning how to click is one of the first steps to becoming an effective echoloator. This lesson provides clicking samples of a variety of different clicks and descriptions of when they might be most useful. This lesson has been used by O&M instructors all over the world.

Despite popular belief, it's easy to make your clicking quite subtle or unnoticeable even in quiet settings. There are many different clicks for different situations. I explain all of these in great detail and give examples of where, why and when they can and should be used.

Get your free lesson now:

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